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Coverage for grant FB-52999-07

Slavery and Freedom in Concord, Massachusetts, 1740-1822
Elise Lemire, Purchase College, SUNY

Grant details:

Black Walden (Review)
Author(s): Joanne Pope Melish
Publication: The Journal of the Civil War Era
Date: 3/1/2011
Abstract: Lemire's book is one of a growing number of efforts to excavate the history of slavery hiding in plain sight in the towns and cities of New England. While many earlier studies foregrounded blacks, a number of scholars in the 1990s began to bring whites back into the story, reorienting their investigations toward the engagement of blacks and whites in slavery and freedom, and its ideological implications. While her title might suggest otherwise, Lemire's fascinating study focuses on such engagement…. Lemire has unearthed an astonishing amount of detailed information about more than a dozen African and African American slaves and the interconnected white families who built their fortunes and genteel reputations on their backs…. Black Walden is a beautifully written, fascinating, and challenging piece of historical detective work.

Black Walden (Review)
Author(s): Christopher Clark
Publication: Slavery & Abolition
Date: 5/17/2010
Abstract: This is a striking addition to the literature about New England slavery and race, to be read alongside the growing body of studies by Joanne Pope Melish, John Wood Sweet, the scholars exploring the life of Venture Smith, and others. Elise Lemire has written a fine microhistory whose specific stories illuminate broader themes. Her starting points are the town of Concord’s reputation as a birthplace of American freedom, and Henry David Thoreau’s interest in the people who had lived in Walden Woods a generation or two before he took up his solitary residence there in 1845. In the chapter ‘Former Inhabitants’ of his classic, Walden, or Life in the Woods (1854), Thoreau penned brief sketches of the people, including ex-slaves, whose former homes were now long abandoned and in ruins. In Black Walden, Lemire draws on public records, private correspondence, and literary sources to reconstruct the lives of these individuals in slavery and afterwards. Her findings enrich our understanding of sla

Black Walden (Review)
Publication: The National Genealogical Society Quarterly
Date: 6/1/2010
Abstract: Engaging and enjoyable to read, Black Walden is highly recommended for any genealogist, historian, or Walden fan with an interest in New England African American history.

Black Walden (Review)
Author(s): Linck Johnson
Publication: New England Quarterly
Date: 6/1/2010
Abstract: ....Through assiduous research, she [Lemire] has tracked the lives of many of those [Concord] slaves and their almost equally forgotten masters. The arc of her graceful narrative is shaped by the “intertwined lives” of the wealthy landowner John Cuming (Thoreau’s “Squire Cummings”) and Brister Freeman, his slave for twenty-five years (p. 13)… Lemire has genuinely enriched our understanding not only of the history of Concord but also of the country for which that fabled town still so often stands.

Black Walden (Review)
Author(s): Richard Klayman
Publication: American Nineteenth Century History
Date: 4/30/2010
Abstract: This interesting book seeks to explore and explain the web-like impact of slavery in the history of Concord, Massachusetts, and it does so with great skill. The author succeeds in bringing to life a small but, as she explains, significant population of African Americans in a community deeply connected to the origins of the American Revolution and the intellectual life of antebellum America. Navigating between local history and national trends, Lemire provides a depth of understanding about slavery's relationship to economic and social mobility. Her perceptive comments about architecture, furniture, and other arts provides for a most perceptive unearthing of a place and its people, including its African Americans residents who have been greatly unknown. In particular, Lemire seeks to demonstrate that “Concord, Massachusetts, of all places, was a slave town. From its founding in 1635 until after the Revolution, enslaved men and women helped to build what would become New England's most s

Black Walden (Review)
Author(s): Jason Martin
Publication: Library Journal
Date: 5/1/2009
Abstract: Walden Pond in Concord, MA, is most famous as the place where Henry David Thoreau went to "live deliberately" and subsist on the land. Thoreau chose Walden in part because its shores, Walden Woods, were at one time home to freed Concord slaves and several generations of their children. Lemire (literature, SUNY at Purchase; Miscegenation: Making Race in America), a native of Concord, sets about to resurrect the memory of not only the freedmen and -women who dwelled there but also the history of slavery in Concord. The first half of the book focuses on the Concord slave holders, in particular prominent slave owner John Cuming. The second half focuses on their 32 slaves, particularly Brister Freeman, who was Cuming's slave and was then freed. Lemire's literature background helps her to bring alive these long-dead historical characters, and she deftly weaves excerpts from Thoreau's Walden throughout the narrative. Ultimately, Lemire conveys the idea that before Walden Pond was a "green spa

Black Walden (Media Coverage)
Publication: Humanities Magazine
Date: 9/1/2010
Abstract: Elise Lemire discovers a local history of slavery in the free thinking capital of the United States.

Mrs. Durham's Discipline: Race, Nation, and American Literary History's Spots (Review)
Author(s): Evan Carton
Publication: American Literary History
Date: 10/16/2011
Abstract: [B]reathtaking…. Lemire’s meticulous and inspired archival research shows that “Concord, Massachusetts, of all places, was a slave town.”… Lemire, who grew up in the “privileged, leafy” neighboring town of Lincoln, generously describes her project as an attempt “to finish what Thoreau had started: the history of slavery in the place we both called home.” Imaginative and moral generosity, to both the black and the white eighteenth- and early-nineteenth century Concordians whose intimately entangled fortunes she chronicles, is a hallmark of her study. At the same time, Lemire is clear-eyed and clear-voiced about the facts and meanings of inter-racial Concord’s “long and brutal history.”… [E]legant writing and thinking… challenging and ethical historical criticism.

Black Walden (Review)
Author(s): J. J. Fox Jr.
Publication: Choice
Date: 3/1/2010
Abstract: Slavery has haunted America since its settlement. For most, it is an evil practice that existed in the South until the Civil War struck it dead. This is not a historically accurate understanding. Slavery existed throughout America from the beginning. This small but important study shines light on Africans in Massachusetts as both slaves and freedmen. Using Concord as a case study, Lemire (Purchase College) first focuses on the slave owners, paying particular attention to John Cuming. The author makes clear that the owners were not benevolent slave masters. Like all slave owners, they saw their slaves as a productive piece of property and an always-present threat to the well-being of their families. Lemire next turns her attention to the life of the slaves after they had gained their independence. As with the slave owners, she focuses on a particular individual, Brister Freeman, a slave who became free. The life of Concord's Africans in and out of slavery was one of prejudice, submissio

Black Walden (Review)
Author(s): Douglas R. Egerton
Publication: The History Teacher
Date: 2/1/2010
Abstract: Rendered forever famous by its most celebrated author, the woods around Walden Pond had shielded other sorts of refugees long before Henry David Thoreau built his cabin there in 1845. In discussing the open green spaces then admired by Concord's residents, Thoreau devoted a chapter of his book to the former slaves who had been driven to the village's margins and cultivated small patches by the pond. Elise Lemire aptly notes that these "green spaces began as black spaces" (p. 12). The small community of enslaved men and women—together with the equally small number of wealthy whites who owned them on the eve of the American Revolution—is the subject of this slim but passionate and elegantly written study…

Videotaped Interview (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Mara Dolan
Publication: Right Here, Right Now
Date: 12/1/2010
Abstract: Interview on Massachusetts Cable Network

New England's Hidden History (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Francie Latour
Publication: Boston Globe
Date: 9/26/2010
Abstract: More than we like to think, the North was built on slavery....

Mass Book Award 2010 Finalists (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Jeremy Dibble et al
Publication: Mass Book Awards
Date: 1/1/2010
Abstract: [Black Walden is] A carefully-researched book, mustering available sources to create a historically-grounded account of the (very small) slave community in Concord before, during, and following the Revolutionary War; a captivating narrative of real people and their times.